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Mixing genders: how to build a team that fosters innovation?

Mixité de genre. Comment bien composer un groupe pour favoriser l’innovation
Published on
25 March 2019

A mixed gender team can have a positive impact on the generation of creative ideas within a group, and in particular, the generation of divergent ideas that can lead to innovation. However, the ideas also have to be recognized and well-received by team members and the organization! A recent study explored the impact of gender balance in terms of team creativity.

The research was carried out by Séverine Le Loarne-Lemaire, a professor and researcher at Grenoble Ecole de Management and head of the FERE Chair (Women and Economic Renewal, and Guy Parmentier, an associate professor and director of the innovation department at IAE Université Grenoble Alpes.

Interview: Your joint research is based on two experimental studies carried out with 99 professionals and 463 students respectively. What did you notice in terms of business habits surrounding gender balance in groups?

The business and consulting worlds see gender balance as a positive factor for groups as the more there’s diversity, the more new ideas are generated. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. There will often be innovative ideas, but the selection of ideas by the mixed group and the organization will not necessarily includes ideas suggested by women.

Your study also analyzed the impact of an evaluators gender on the evaluation of new ideas. What were the results?

The study carried out by Guy Parmentier notably demonstrated that men and women don’t evaluate ideas in the same way. It’s not necessarily conscious discrimination, but rather that women tend to evaluate ideas in a more strict and meticulous manner than men.

As a result, it’s important to be aware of an evaluator’s potential subjective perspective and discuss this issue. We’re also going further in our research to understand what processes could help balance this difference and whether that would be a positive change.

You also highlight that men and women evaluate their own creative ideas in a different manner... 

Our results demonstrated that ideas shared by women in small groups, especially mixed groups, are rarely selected. This could be due to the fact some women might not defend their ideas as well as men or they may simply evaluate others’ ideas as better than their own. Women will give a lower evaluation to their own ideas versus those of a man despite the fact that a blind jury evaluation cannot distinguish if male or female creative ideas are better or worse.

Why do you believe there is such a difference between how men and women evaluate creative idea?

One of the possible reasons is the education of women who are often considered to be more “docile” and “respectful of rules and instructions” than their male counterparts. Another reason is self-esteem. Our research and as well as research by others underlines that women have lower self-efficacy than men. 

How can we overcome this biais?

We have to integrate self-esteem in our considerations of education for young girls. In a previous, slightly provocative article, we suggested the concept of a “special” education for girls. Without actually going that far, the solution really does lie in counteracting the negative opinion women often have of their own achievements (at least in the business world) by increasing mixity in initial education. Research in the field of education highlights that female teachers often unconsciously judge work done by young girls and boys. The idea is also to offer specific support for girls to bolster self-esteem starting during adolescence. Other research we are carrying out demonstrates that this lack of self-esteem is already present by the age of 13!

What is your advice to create a group that fosters innovation?

A gender balanced group can have a positive impact on creative ideas. But if female-created ideas are never selected, then their innovation potential will be wasted. So organizers really have to be aware of this biais right off the bat. As women are more critical of their own ideas than mens’ ideas, we suggest specific support for evaluators to understand this issue. If a first test underlines that important differences in evaluation are present, it is possible to weight grades in order to offer more equitable evaluations.